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Ag sustainability growing in profile - but investment falling short

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Sustainability in agriculture is growing into a high profile topic - but getting investment in it, and achieving change on often small-scale farms can be difficult, particularly in developing countries.

Speaking at the Agrimoney Investment Forum, Adam Gibbon of investment fund Althelia Ecosphere said while political and corporate leaders are sources of good ideas on agricultural sustainability, getting investors to back it was more difficult.

"It is like turning a big ship round," Mr Gibbon told the forum, in London.

However, he said his business had successfully attracted funds from investors and, crucially, from public finance.

"There is public money to be invested just now. If you want to take the step into sustainability, do it now."

'Very risk averse'

While his fund was based around improving agriculture's sustainability, he said achieving this at farm level, on very small acreages, was often very challenging.

In production growth, for instance, pursuing a sustainable agenda meant that improvements had to come better yields rather than expanding cocoa or palm oil plantations into new areas such as rainforest.

But it was difficult to work with many thousands of smallholders who farmed perhaps one to two hectares at most

These smallholder producers "are very risk averse and conservative, and are living very close to the breadline, so innovation and risk is not an option for them.

"They need a lot of confidence and support to do that [change their system]."

Mobile help

Mobile phones had proved to be a key way of communicating with these growers via text message alerts and allowing them to send back data.

They had also helped solve issues caused by few people having bank accounts, he said.

Technology was also now allowing people to run "virtual plantations" without owning the land but by being able to amalgamate lots of farmers and plantations.

"This could be very exciting for the future of the sector."


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